Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Origin sin: what a dreadful choice of words...

Here is a truly helpful interpretation of what is at the heart of the doctrine of original sin.  It comes from Fr. Richard Rohr and not only resonates with reality, but helps frame the quest for going deeper into the truths often buried in calcified words or concepts.  As I have been playfully affirming for most of my ministry, poetry and music are often the best vehicles for theological insights.

Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem,” states in the refrain: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” It sounds a lot like Paul’s statement about carrying “the treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). These are both much more poetic ways of naming what we unfortunately called “original sin”—a poor choice of words because the word sin implies fault and culpability, and that is precisely not the point! Original sin was trying to warn us that the flaw at the heart of all reality is nothing we did personally, but that there is simply “a crack in everything” and so we should not be surprised when it shows itself in us or in everything else. This has the power to keep us patient, humble, and less judgmental. (One wonders if this does not also make the point that poetry and music are a better way to teach spiritual things than mental concepts.)
The deep intuitions of most church doctrines are invariably profound and correct, but they are still expressed in mechanical and literal language that everybody adores, stumbles over, denies, or fights. Hold on for a while until you get to the real meaning, which is far more than the literal meaning! That allows you to creatively both understand and critique things—without becoming oppositional, hateful, arrogant, and bitter yourself. Some call this “appreciative inquiry” and it has an entirely different tone that does not invite or create “the equal and opposite reactionof physics. The opposite of contemplation is not action; it is reaction. Much of the “inconsistent ethic of life,” in my opinion, is based on ideological reactions and groupthink, not humble discernment of how darkness hides and “how the light gets in” to almost everything. I hope I do not shock you, but it is really possible to have very “ugly morality” and sometimes rather “beautiful immorality.” Please think and pray about that.
At my installation ceremony to ministry, "Anthem" was at the core of our liturgy: we sang it, it shaped our prayers and it guided the preacher's message.  As Paul said, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  And that would be ALL of us - everyone - as we have been created "cracked" in order to mature into greater holiness.  To learn from our mistakes.  And to do so with humility and humor rather than hubris.  "We do have these treasurers in earthen vessels" - and that is not a mistake - it is how God created us.

In Henri Nouwen's collected observations re: spiritual direction, Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, he shares another important corrective to the damage done by the expression original sin.  He writes:

All of us have deep inner memories of the paradise that we have lost.  So maybe the word innocence is better than the word paradise. We were innocent before we started feeling guilty; we were in the light before we entered into the darkness; we were at home before we started to search for a home.  Deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts lies the hidden treasure that we once had and now seek. We know its preciousness, and we know that it holds the gift we most desire: a spiritual life stronger than physical death...

This is a sweet and refreshing alternative to the more corrosive and tragic  Reformed doctrine of "total depravity."  Now, even here, there is a hint of truth to the notion that human beings are totally unable to heal ourselves; that much also resonates with reality but Roman Catholic wisdom refuses to call the human soul depraved.  Rather they insist that everyone still retains a glimmer of the original light and innocence of creation - even if we're still "cracked."  To which Nouwen concludes:

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched fertile ground, you want to dig deeper. This digging and search for an underground stream is the discipline of prayer.  And I have come to define prayer as listening to that voice - to the one who calls you the Beloved - the discipline of  prayer is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves.  My life, you see, is rooted in my spiritual identity... payer is simply listening with careful attention and obedience.

My blogging friend, Blue Eyed Ennis, recently posted this poem by Denise Levertov that says much the same thing:

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their coloured clothes; caps and bells.

And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamour
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it

No comments:

trusting the sacramental wisdom of the seasons: the autumnal equinox

Yesterday a little package arrived: my used copy of Christopher Hill's 2003 book Holidays and Holy Nights - Celebrating Twelve Seasonal ...